Thanksgiving assumes both a recipient and a benefactor. Atheists must have severe ambivalence even celebrating the holiday. If there is no God, why observe a holiday begun and repeated as a grateful admission of all God’s goodness? In our tough times of financial stress, they could report for work the 4th Thursday of November, but even dissenters find a fringe benefit in the Thanksgiving holiday. (Actually, the word holiday derives from "holy day")
Thanksgiving is always a God-thing that reflects our national history and undercuts atheism, which snubs the very notion of God. It is amazing how the Plymouth Pilgrims were etched into our national history even before there was a United States. Perhaps its was their tenacity in sailing a wild ocean in pursuit of religious liberty or their famous pre-debarkation Mayflower Compact that begins "In the name of God, amen."
President Obama emphasized the Pilgrim spirit in his 2009 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
"What began as a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities nearly four centuries ago has become our cherished tradition of Thanksgiving. This day’s roots are intertwined with those of our Nation, and its history traces the American narrative. Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed ‘by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,’ and President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured Nation in the midst of civil war..."
Commendably, Mr. Obama concluded the proclamation, as with all presidential proclamations, with an obvious reference to God’s greatest gift of Christ:
"IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth."
The formality of ending "In the year of our Lord…" is a testimony to early national acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus Christ as the author of our calendar and the foundational truth of the nation. The phrase "In the year of our Lord," also appears in the conclusion of the U.S. Constitution signed in 1787. The founding fathers apparently knew more about the anchorage of history to the coming of Christ than modern detractors are willing to admit.
More specifically, the Bible enjoins divine thanks through Christ as the central figure of gratitude. Hebrews 13:11-16 clarifies it: "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."
The old Swedish hymn by August L. Storm, written about 1891, says it eloquently:
Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!
Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!
Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!